Let's talk about dogs this morning. Many of us have furrier four-footed friends about the house. As "Man's Best Friend", they've been companions, beasts of burden, and dogs of war for untold centuries, if not millennia.
Dogs can be a comfort to those who served in war. A longtime therapeutic aid has been the "therapy dog", and there are many charities that exist to provide comfort and succor to returning vets. But like everything else in life - there are those who would take advantage
, and you could probably guess that such charity doesn't come cheap, either.
WASHINGTON -- A Kansas City military charity has reclaimed a service dog it donated to a veteran after he lied about trying to save a fellow soldier's life in Afghanistan.
The group Food Industry Serving Heroes took the Boykin Spaniel from Brandon Garrison earlier this month after threatening legal action. A Stars and Stripes investigation in September detailed how Garrison, a former Army specialist hailed as a hero in Kansas, lied for years to Sgt. Christopher Wilson's mother about being at her son's side when he died on the battlefield.
"In light of everything we've discovered, this dog never should have been given to [Garrison]," said Paul Chapa, a founder of the nonprofit group.
In 2007, Wilson was deployed to the Korengal Valley with the 10th Mountain Division and was manning a firebase when he was struck and killed by recoilless rifle fire in a Taliban attack. Garrison, 29, had not held Wilson as he died, despite the story he told the sergeant's mother, and was instead in the main sleeping tent at the nearby Korengal Outpost, where he spent his deployment inside the wire as a vehicle parts clerk.
Chapa said his group started an effort last fall to reclaim the dog, named Ralfie. Service dogs are costly, and the charity pays about $7,000-$8,000 for each one, he said.
At first, the charity contacted Garrison with a letter stating it wanted to give Ralfie to a more deserving veteran. Then an attorney met with the former soldier earlier this month.
"It took us reaching out to an attorney and the attorney taking the case pro bono ... he [Garrison] relented and said, 'Yeah, come and get the dog,' " Chapa said.
A Marine in California is now in line to become Ralfie's new owner. He will fly to Kansas City to work with Ralfie before talking him home, Chapa said.
Garrison could not immediately be reached for this story. He told Stars and Stripes in August that the lie about Wilson's death felt real to him and that the Army should not have sent him to the Korengal Valley because he had emotional issues.
We'll jump over to a local story - right here in Rhode Island. But I'll start in Cambridge, MA. You're probably familiar with the "Garden Cemetery" concept. It's a change from the dark and gloomy traditional "cemetery" with rows of slate headstones. The concept is open, bright, well-landscaped, and a park-like setting. Mount Auburn Cemetery was among the first in the country to try it, and almost 200 years later, it's still a popular walking destination, and is an important bird sanctuary around these parts. Most of us were raised to treat cemeteries with respect and dignity. Most of them still ban bicycling and roller-blading...and you certainly would never think to use it as a dog park, would you?
EXETER, R.I. -- Families of those buried in Rhode Island's veterans' cemetery say that using the grounds as a dog park is disrespectful to the fallen, and they're battling pet owners over access to the property.
Unlike many state veterans' cemeteries nationwide that ban pets out of respect, Rhode Island has no such restrictions.
Rhode Island has received six complaints in the past year from visitors to the cemetery who were upset that dogs are roaming about the 265-acre property in Exeter. One complaint alleges a dog knocked down a child.
The head of the Veterans of Foreign Wars department in Rhode Island, Frank Rosebrock, is appalled that dogs walk among the veterans' stones and sometimes relieve themselves.
"I can't believe it," he said. "It is disgusting."
The chairman of House Veterans Affairs Committee agrees. Democratic Rep. Jan Malik introduced a bill on Tuesday to prohibit pets, except for service animals, from the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Violators would be fined.
It's very common for state veterans' cemeteries to restrict pets and recreational activities to maintain their sanctity, said David Brasuell, president of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs. Brasuell was surprised to hear Rhode Island allows pets, and called it "inappropriate."
In New England, New Hampshire allows leashed pets into its veterans' cemetery while Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Maine allow service animals only.
"We don't need them using the gravestones as trees," said Pam Porter, in Connecticut's office of cemetery and memorial services.
But of course, we're still a veteran's column, so we should check in on our fellow countrymen in uniform. Remember when we left Iraq a few years back? Well, it turns out that we didn't, and the number of soldiers deployed there remains much higher
than we've all been told. Despite our best efforts, we still seem hell-bent on making more veterans.
The U.S. routinely has more troops on the ground in Iraq than the 3,500-3,600 frequently cited by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, the high command and President Barack Obama, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said Wednesday.
"It's fair to say" that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq serving as trainers and advisors -- or in support or on special assignment -- was well above 4,000 on a daily basis, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve led by Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland.
In a video briefing from Baghdad to the Pentagon, Warren essentially confirmed a Daily Beast report that the current number of U.S. troops in Iraq was about 4,450. "I don't think we're going to dispute what's in the Daily Beast article," he said.
Warren said U.S. troops on the ground also exceeded the "cap" of about 3,870 agreed to with the Baghdad government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. "We're aware of those restraints and limitations," he said.
Warren attributed some of the excess to "overlap" in troop rotations, noting that the 101st Airborne Division currently was in the process of switching out with units of the 82nd Airborne Division. "So there's naturally going to be overlap there. There's this continuous churn and turnover" of troops coming and going, he said.
"Additionally there's always people cycling through here" on temporary duty, or TDY, status, Warren said. He cited a trip to Iraq of the Defense Department's Inspector General, who had a security detail of about 25 American troops.
The "boots on the ground" issue in the effort in Iraq and Syria to defeat the Islamic State has been a source of friction with Congress. The issue has also been a main topic of the presidential campaigns since Obama authorized the deployment of small units to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad when fighters affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, swept into Iraq in the late spring of 2014. U.S. airstrikes against ISIS began in the country in early August 2014.
Obama has consistently ruled out ground combat for U.S. troops, limiting their roles to training, advising and assisting, but critics of the administration have warned of "mission creep" in the growing number of Americans on the ground.
We'll see - today being election day in NH, I wonder what the next occupant of the oval office is going to do?